Sermon – Lent 4 – March 11, 2018
John 3:14-21 ‘The Light of the Cross’
CT: When the light of Christ crucified penetrates our darkness, the poison of sin and death give way to life.
Intro: Some things are just better in the dark, like fireworks and star gazing. What would a Christmas candlelight service be if we left all the lights on? And our Good Friday Tenebrae service wouldn’t mean as much without the darkness!
But darkness also hides things. Parents put out night lights for small children to chase away all those things that go ‘bump’ in the middle of the night. But scary and shameful things also lurk deep in the dark recesses of our hearts; things we’ve said or done that would be better if they never saw the light of day! Darkness is the cover for all kinds of evil; adultery, sexual immorality, theft, and murder are often committed in the dark, or in such a way as to conceal them. When Jesus was arrested at night He said: “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22:53)
A Snake and Light: In our Gospel lesson, Jesus uses the division between light and darkness to help us understand what connects the bronze snake in the wilderness to His own cross. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”
God’s people in the wilderness became impatient and fainthearted along the way and grumbled against God and against Moses. All that God had given them was not good enough; they were not getting anywhere fast enough. We too can grow impatient and grumble about what’s happening in our lives to the point that nothing and no one in your life is good enough. And we like the people in the wilderness end up snake bitten with the poison of disappointment and bitterness. God’s people asked Moses to intervene; to ask God to take away the snakes, but instead God’s snake bitten people were brought face to face with God’s saving response to their sin and judgement of death; they only needed look up at the bronze snake on the pole, an image of what bit them and they would not die but live.
Sound too simple for you? God’s promise resulted in either faith and life or disbelief and death. I wonder how many thought it foolish, turned away, and died. Naaman the leperous general in the Syrian army thought Elisha’s word of healing was foolish. If Elisha had asked Naaman to chop the head off a fire breathing dragon, he would have done it, but wash in the Jordan seemed too; simple; demeaning. Servants convinced Naaman that it was “a great word the prophet has spoken to you,” and so he washed and was made clean “according to the word of the man of God.” (2 Kings 5)
A Son and Light: We too are snake bitten by the fiery serpent of our own sin, but God’s promise in the Garden of Eden to crush the serpent’s head has been fulfilled by His Son. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, became sin for us. God gave…the Son of Man was lifted up and our sin and death and punishment were put on full display; the poison of the snake who bit each one of us. All who look to Jesus, whoever believes in Him will not die—perish eternally, but live—eternally! Sound too simple for you? This great and immeasurable promise of God, His response to our sinfulness, also results in two things; faith and life or disbelief and death.
John 3:16 is often called ‘the Gospel in a nutshell’ as if we could toss out the whole of God’s Word and keep this one verse. People ask, “Pastor, why do you make it so complicated; God doesn’t.” It’s not that the church should ever complicate the message of salvation; we sinners complicate it all on our own. We continually hide part of our lives in the dark; we are famous for our infidelity when it comes to trusting in God above all things; we’re always flirting with the shadows, or as Jesus said: “people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” Confessing our sin is never easy; we’d prefer to leave them in the dark not trusting that God will forgive this one, as if God does not see or know!
Necessary: Our Gospel lesson is part of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, the Pharisee who came to Him at night—in the dark. Our response to John 3:16 is anything but simple; Jesus told Nicodemus how difficult it really is. He said, “It is necessary for you to be born from above (John 3:7).” Apart from the new birth of the life of faith, every person remains in the darkness of our sins and the wrath of God remains. “Whoever believes in [God’s Son] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already.” But you have been bathed in God’s response to the poisonous bite of our sin by the water and the Spirit of your Baptism. Jesus has drawn you to Himself that you would daily—hourly gaze upon the Crucified One (like the bronze serpent on the pole), and be healed of the venomous bite of sin, freed from death’s power over you, and live now for forever!
Light in Darkness: The Light has come into the world. The crucified Christ is a threat to the will and the way of every sinner; yes, even you and me. For the human will is enslaved to sin, and strange as it seems, wants to do no other even though we are miserable and unsatisfied with it, for the taskmaster of sin is always demanding more and never delivering what it promises to do. It’s a false god! Darkness is the sinner’s closest friend, and so in spite of the Light—in spite of John 3:16—he embraces his own judgment. Yet it is the Light that comes to us; we are only ever saved by God’s work for us in Christ Jesus, and we are only ever left in the dark and lost forever by our won stubborn love of the dark.
But “whoever does what is true comes to the light.” We don’t come to the light because we’re already doing what is true; it’s that the Light is conforming our lives to what is true—Jesus is the Truth. It means living as a forgiven sinner in the light of Christ, looking to the crucified One who became sin for you. He is your life and your salvation! And there is nothing simple about that or where the Light in John 3:16 will take you.